Navigating the red stamp: an exploration of the way inclusive education is conceptualized, understood and implemented within local contexts in Vietnam

PhD Thesis

Stevens, M. 2020. Navigating the red stamp: an exploration of the way inclusive education is conceptualized, understood and implemented within local contexts in Vietnam . PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Teacher Education
AuthorsStevens, M.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctorate of Philosophy

This thesis examined how inclusive education reforms, which are pre-dominantly based on theory developed in the Global North, were conceptualised, understood and implemented at a local level, in two primary schools in Vietnam. It aimed to understand the implications of external frameworks and policies and guidelines from powerful international institutions on local educational practices. This study furthermore problematised the position of a foreign researcher undertaking research in Vietnam and aimed to identify strategies which might support navigating complex research contexts, whilst avoiding a singular Western perspective on data collection and analysis. The findings of a review of literature were used to establish a set of emerging key issues related to inclusive education and policy development in Vietnam, which informed the research questions and design.

A case study approach was used to explore the research questions. Data for this study was collected over a period of nearly five years. Between May 2015 and October 2016, the focus was on national level partnership building and collaboration with local authorities to obtain access to the case study schools. Between October 2016 and April 2018 regular visits to two primary schools were undertaken to gather data through interviews with teachers and classroom observations. Until December 2019 there were ongoing discussions with Vietnamese and foreign critical friends to reflect about emerging findings. The data was presented through a series of critical incidents which explored the key issues from different perspectives. Re-occurring key themes were further analysed and discussed.

The data suggested that globalisation processes introduced new ideas in the case study schools. The teachers re-interpreted these new concepts based on their specific contexts, existing knowledge and earlier experiences. This resulted in a blend of different discourses, with elements of a rights-based discourse but also drawing from a narrow, disability-focused model of inclusive education. It appeared that although the teachers worked within a very restrictive policy framework, they exercised some agency in developing hybrid practices which allowed them to navigate conflicting social, cultural and political expectations. This thesis argues that governments and international agencies need to build space and time in their programmes to allow education reforms to be developed locally, to provide clear policy support and agency for teachers to locally enact national and international requirements and to respect teachers and local education leaders as competent partners in reform processes. It argues furthermore that international agency and NGO working in the field of education need to think further and make efforts to develop pedagogical frameworks in partnership with local policy makers, educational leaders and field workers, rather than adjusting imposed pedagogical frameworks developed elsewhere. This requires more time and effort to understand the specific contextual factors which shape educational thinking and practices in schools, to understand what actually happens in school and why, and to notice small differences and changes in practice, which make sense for local practitioners but are not always easy to notice from an outsider perspective.

A range of challenges emerged in this research journey, including the navigation of bureaucratic requirements which was time-consuming. The emergent nature of this research design became increasingly problematic because of the local socio-political context and the policy constraints in schools. These along with language and cultural misunderstandings, affected the extent to which trusting relationships could be established at a local level. A number of important strategies were identified to navigate these, including collaboration with critical friends and peer Vietnamese researchers.

KeywordsInclusive education reforns; Vietnam; Globalisation process; Challenges
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Deposited24 Sep 2020
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